Hear from a Puppy Raiser:

Featuring Tara and Rebel


Rebel came into my life and took up a lot of space. But it wasn’t like I was using it for anything important. Living alone and working in Maine for the summer put me out of my comfort zone and away from my friends and family. Rebel soaked up every bit of loneliness. She dictated my life. I was her puppet and as much as she was under my command I was on her schedule.

Rebel was a raw nerve. She loved openly and whole heartedly, she showed all her pain and discomfort, she had zero ability to hold back emotions. Later she learned how to stay under the table if she saw another dog outside, how to walk to me, even if she was frightened, how to control herself, a bit. But she never lost her ability throw herself into life, hers and mine and everyone she came into contact with.

She gave me the chance to love, which I learned is so much more than saying the words. Love is showing up and helping, love is being there, even after work, even when you are tired and busy. Love is making it work and enjoying it. Love is a 50-pound puppy throwing herself at you after a recall because she just wants to be with you. Love is also her ability to hold back because you asked her too. Love is staying sober at parties so you can always drive home. Love is spending your day off working towards the goal of mastering the escalator. Love is accepting someone’s limitations while pushing them to achieve their potential.

Holy hell this dog was a challenge, and holy hell, I hope I have the chance to do it again someday.

The Rule of Twelve

Not sure where this came from originally, but it’s a good guide for all puppy raisers and pet owners. By the time a puppy is 12 weeks old (or as soon as you can) it should have experienced the following:

  • 12 Different surfaces to walk on—Wood, mulch, carpet, tile, cement, linoleum, wet grass, dirt, mud, puddles, deep pea gravel, grates, sand, uneven surfaces, grooming table, etc.
  • 12 Different locations to potty on—see above
    Play with 12 different objects—fuzzy toys, large and small balls, hard rubber toys, toys with funny sounds, milk jugs, metal items, keys, etc. (Service dogs, please no wood or paper)
  • 12 Different locations—your yard, other people’s homes, school, lake, pond, river, boat, basement, elevator, different cars, garage, laundry room, vet, etc.
  • Met and played with 12 new people outside of your family—kids, adults, elderly, different ethnicities, wheelchairs, walkers, canes, crutches, hats, sunglasses, etc.
  • Exposed to 12 different noises—Be aware of your pup’s body language, please do not put your puppy toward any noise. Garage door opener, doorbell, kids playing, babies crying, trucks, motorcycles, skateboards, washing machine, shopping carts, boat motor, clapping, singing, live music, pots and pans, animal noises, vacuums, lawnmower, etc.
  • 12 Different fast moving objects—do not allow your puppy to chase! Skateboards, rollerblades, running kids, bikes, motor cycles, cars, runners, cats running, squirrels, scooters, birds, etc.
  • 12 Different challenges—climb into a box, through a tunnel, up and down stairs (short ones) obstacles, Fitpaws equipment, through doorways, sliders, umbrella, balloons, wobble boards, over a log, tub, etc.
  • Handled by owner and family, 12 times a week—hold under arm, to chest, hold on floor, hug, hold head, examine ears, feet, mouth, toes, trim nails.
  • Eaten from 12 different containers—wobbly bowl, metal, cardboard box, paper cup, pie plate, china, frying pan, kong, treat ball, spoon, hand, paper bag, grocery bag, travel bowls, etc.
  • Eaten in 12 different locations—kitchen, outside, all rooms of home, etc. (Service dogs, on a field trip)
  • Played with 12 different puppies or safe adult dogs.
  • Left alone safely in crate, away from family and other animals from 5 to 45 minutes, 12 times a week

Raising a BASK puppy

My name is Christina Taddei, I am the BASK lead trainer and have been raising and training service dogs since 2005.

When I give a new service dog candidate to a raiser, or when I get a new pup, there is a certain amount of anxiety—so much promise, so much need! What if I screw it up? What if I can’t do it right? Yes, I think that, even after years of doing this. Luckily, you don’t—can’t—think of that for very long, because puppies are a full time job and for the first week or so they’re all consuming. But before you know it, you’re in a routine and the little ball of fluff is going to classes, getting better and better at getting groomed and is getting the idea of potty training. Puppy Kindergarten class is about handing—getting your pup comfortable with lying in your lap and getting inspected for ticks, teeth brushed, grooming, ear cleaning and plucking, and nails clipped and ground. This is such an important skill for a dog who will need to be groomed for it’s entire lifetime—sometimes by an amateur, sometimes by a groomer. Puppy class is also about being social and learning to play with other dogs and people.

At about 16 weeks, your service dog candidate transitions from puppy kindergarten to obedience classes. This makes your life so much easier!! Once you’ve begun to gain your pup’s attention and keep it, you’ll be able to start taking him out in public more and more. The first “field trips” can be stressful for the handler, so in your raiser handbook we ask you to limit them to 10 or 15 minutes. Longer is not better—successful is better. Go to the starbucks drive thru, get your coffee and drink it outside. Done! Go through the grocery store without shopping. Done! Go into the post office to mail a letter. Done! Vet visits are fairly frequent for youngsters, so another great place to go, get a cookie, get weighed, and leave. Done! After a few of these you and your pup gain confidence and will be ready to move on to more challenging trips, or modifying these—go into Starbucks to get your coffee, do a little grocery shopping, etc. Stay within your suggested trips or ask your trainer if you’d like to do more.

We often trade puppies for up to a month at a time. Sometimes we are lucky enough to have a “nursery” raiser, who keeps the pup until they’re about 4 months old. This is to keep the pup from becoming too attached to it’s raiser and makes it easier for him to bond to the client. It also exposes the service dog candidate to more than one home environment, important because we usually have no idea where the pup will eventually live.
The most difficult thing for most people is responding to access challenges—someone who tells you that you cannot enter a public venue with your service dog in training. Under the law in Massachusetts, you can. Your trainer will coach you with answers and go with you if necessary. “He’s a service dog, and ok to be here” or “He’s a service dog, here’s the chapter and section of the law in MA”. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. The other difficult thing is responding to people who want to pet your dog while it’s working. The answer is always NO. “Sorry, he’s working, but thank you for asking” becomes a mantra. This is always the case UNLESS you’re looking for a particular demographic from your pup’s Life List to introduce your puppy to—elders, little kids, etc.

Service dog candidates are evaluated formally every 3 months to determine whether they should stay in program. They are also expected to pass the AKC STAR Puppy test, the AKC Canine Good Citizen test, as well as the AKC CGC-A, CGC-U and AKC ATT test before they’re ready to leave the raiser.

At about 6-to 9 months, your service dog candidate becomes a part of you, and taking him with you is easy. You begin to look for more and more challenging places to take him—Santa, the Easter Bunny, a hot air balloon festival! I have been known to pull over at a random carnival, street fair, or house fire to let my pup in training experience things that I haven’t gotten to on our “life list” yet.

Our pups generally get altered at about a year, and the bigger, deeper chested dogs also get gastropexied. It’s a big surgery, but recovery is easy—about 7 days of “out for bathroom only” and another 7 of no jumping/athletics, then back to normal duty. Basically, lots of crate time.
It’s at about this time when our pups are matched with a client who is waiting for them. Balance dogs are taught one group of tasks, PTSD dogs another. Your trainer will teach you how to train your service dog candidate to perform tasks for his handler. When the dogs are fully trained, they are introduced to their potential handlers and they enter training together. Yes, you are allowed to stay in contact with your pup’s new handler if the two of you wish to.